The Words of the Kaufmann Family

Psychology and Religion in Contemporary Discussion

Frank Kaufmann
Psychology and Religion in Contemporary Discussion

Distinguished delegates of the Psychology and Religion in Contemporary Discussion," of the Association of Government Psychologists of the Philippines. I am honored to have this opportunity to greet you this morning, and to offer brief and preliminary thoughts on the conference theme you have so courageously set out to address.

In the next days you will investigate four key elements and the various ways they can be interrelated. These are; religion, psychology, family, and contemporary culture.

Each of these four concepts is sprawling in its own right, and the various patterns of relationship which can exist among them likewise is vast in its potential and complexity.

Put simply, those of you gathered here are daring to embark into a dialogue which, to my estimation surely must be as thorny and challenging as any which might occur between Muslims and Jews, Indians and Pakistanis, or any of the classical front-lines of arduous dialogue and negotiation.

The historical relationship between religion and psychology has not been especially good even though, in the ideal case, the two enterprises should be natural friends and allies. Nevertheless strides toward collaboration have already been achieved from both sides, and greater respect and mutual learning between the two professions has firmly institutionalized itself both in the academy, the psychology profession, and in the seminaries and religious leadership and communities.

It may be the sense of the organizers that "the family" can provide the common ground for experts from the two groups to find common cause, and pursue a fruitful and positive dialogue. While I agree with this premise as an "ought," I am afraid that it may be overly optimistic to expect this to function as such in the present.

Sadly, it must be acknowledged that battle lines have been drawn in some quarters in which no greater red flag exists than the mere mention of the word family. I do not want to raid on an essential premise of this important meeting, but one must be aware of this in order to move forward with eyes open. Take a powerful wellspring of ideology and symbol like the United Nations as an example. There exists, and has for a long time there, a militant movement which is now gaining success in virtually prohibiting the very use of the word family in UN parlance! This community of activists insists that the word "families" be used lest one ever be so evil as to presume a consensus on the definition of what the word family means. This ideological and powerful coalition at the UN holds the very word family to be evidence of cultural imperialism.

I together with the organizers and yourselves, long to see deepening harmony and cooperation arise between religious and psychological professionals, and furthermore I agree that the ideals of health and wholeness shared by both groups can not be more fruitfully pursued than in the context of investing in fortifying and uplifting the natural family, but I would be irresponsible to suggest that current reality could avail of this vision to provide easy solutions. A harsh awakening eventually awaits any who are unfamiliar with a fierce and often insidious battle over even the very word family.

Finally, the notion of "contemporary culture" is expected to be included in reflections on the issues at hand. In some circles, there is a common understanding of the term "modern culture." It can carries a mildly or clearly negative connotation, and often serves as a catch-all for a vague embodiment of factors which are seen to have a hostility toward classical "family values." Once again, I concur with this intuition, but again, I submit that one cannot take for granted the expectation that there will be consensus on this view of the nature and impact of contemporary culture.

There is a broad spectrum of positions vis a vis contemporary culture. There may be a large majority which shares the suspicion that contemporary culture plagues the moral moorings of a healthy society, but do so only in a distracted manner. They’ll be agreeing with you all the way to the video rental store, and while sending in the extra charges to ensure that HBO is on their cable service. Their agreement over the detrimental influence of contemporary culture is not such that it would inhibited for a second their massive immersion and obsessive consumption of the wine of modern culture, mesmerized by inane television programming for hours everyday day, and dressing up their little daughters to look like Brittany Spears, whose attire in earlier times would have a woman fully ostracized from the town’s mainstream. These folk who cannot speak through the cheese in their mouths to say that too much fat is unhealthy, can hardly be counted on as allies.

The masses who are defenseless before the incitation to consumerism are not the worst by any means. There are those who without conscience who seek capital gain despite the impact of their product on individual lives, on families, and on society. It is dreamy to imagine that it would be easy to challenge cultural trends given the money, wealth, and influence at stake. The only successful challenge to Hollywood in the US came from the author Michael Medved, whose book Hollywood Versus America established that anti-values media was unprofitable! Not that it was harmful, or wrong.

Most urgently, however, even beyond entrepreneurs proceeding in a moral fog, are those who hail the disintegrative powers of modern culture as a force for progress and human liberation. These are intensely engaged ideologues, often with powerful positions in the academy and other influential institutions who far from decrying a sense that modern culture is harmful to moral foundations, actually revel in this fact. The values which many hold dear and understand to be the only hope for the future of our society are the very values which these ideologues are determined eliminate.

So as I see it, you who are gathered here must be commended to a towering degree, and further, must be given every advantage to pursue progress in your aims including prayer, attitudes of respect and forgiveness among each other, and also substantial economic and social support for your endeavors. Increasing harmony, cooperation, and mutual respect among religious, and mental health professionals, must proceed on the foundation of long term commitment, and ever shored up insistence on the good will of all involved. Care for the family, and analysis and prescription for directions in contemporary culture, likewise require the same elements of humility and mutual assurance over the long haul.

Please do not underestimate the significance of what you are undertaking here. It may feel but a small beginning, but I am deeply convinced that it is significant. Those who persist and breakthrough will have pioneered extremely important frontiers in benefitting humankind.

In summary, I see your challenges as follows:

1. The history of the relationship between religion and psychology has not always been harmonious or mutually respectful. Both sides have erred in its treatment or assumptions about the other, and have often proceeded in ignorance. A genuine dialogue proceeding in humility and a spirit to learn and enhance one’s own field through the wisdom and knowledge of the other will prove a boon for all, including those whom you serve professionally.
1a) One of the difficulties which will characterize the on-going dialogue between religion and psychology is the fact that both communities are also fractious within. Both the religious community, and the psychological community have factions within that are competitive and hostile. This reality must be steadily addressed alongside of the larger dialogue across professional lines.
2. Collaboration, mutual teaching and mutual support between these two professional communities will be most helpful in facing not only the tragedy of family breakdown, but very importantly in facing addressing positions which explicitly seek and vigorously labor at the breakdown of the natural, two parent family.
3. Collaboration between these two communities will strengthen and enable each other to proceed effectively in the urgent task of analyzing the impact of contemporary culture, and prescribing and implementing programs and agendas for its reform and renewal.

Thank you very much for your time and attention.

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